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2017 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Previews & Predictions

A divisional round preview that only takes in account the things that matter.

Wild Card Round - Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

DVOA and DYAR are for losers. Using Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder to gather statistics are for those who mold the world to how they want to see it. NFL Next Gen Stats are cute and provide nothing of value. Watching the film is for losers with no friends. Especially no girl or boyfriends.

I could have written four previews, filled it up with numbers and GIFs, and gone to bed to the tunes of alley cats. I would have been very wrong and my picks still wouldn’t have registered a blimp in the football zeitgeist. The only game I picked right last weekend was Kansas City-Tennessee, simply because the Titans could run the ball and control the clock against the Chiefs. You gotta run the ball to win in the playoffs.

The rest? Wrong. I entangled my heart with the chains of analysis and forgot to account for the things that really matter. How naive! So stupid! Somehow I crawled out of the garden of youth only to get dumber. The Rams were too inexperienced for the bright lights. The Bills were just happy to be there. The Panthers’ defense and run game haven’t proved IT yet.

Numbers and film are all viscous slop that seeped into my folds and poisoned my judgement. I have been meditating all week. My chakras are in line. I’m glowing electric green. I need to listen to me. No longer will I fill my brain up with ambiguity and noise. These are football games, not research projects. You watch football. You don’t study it.

Let’s get on with it. The team in bold is who I predict will win.

Saturday 3:35 p.m. CST: Atlanta Falcons v. Philadelphia Eagles (+3)

Despite leading from the beginning of the game to the end of the game, I wasn’t impressed by Atlanta last week. Matt Ryan game-managed. They did what they needed to do by running the ball for five yards a gain with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman against a Wade Phillips defense that always struggles against the run. Atlanta’s defense was faster than Los Angeles’ offense. But the Falcons were given two free possessions and didn’t blow the door down.

Ryan has been sick all year. He’s thrown too many interceptions and not enough touchdowns. Touchdowns win you football games. Atlanta’s offense will probably try to play the same sort of game this weekend to limit him. It’s playoff football. All that high rising passing doesn’t get you anywhere anyways.

Although the Eagles are without Mr. Touchdown himself, I still like them to win on Saturday. They are at home. It’s going to be outdoors. They’ll be dumpster hot-tubbing before the game. It’s going to be raucous. Ryan and the Falcons are a pod of pedicured, pink ribbon poodles heading into a junk yard. Playoff football is a game of incontinence. Things slow down. Both teams are going to have to mash and slam bone into bone. The Eagles have a better run game and defense. They are more physical than the Falcons. Nick Foles needs to just make two downfield throws. The bruise meets the fruit.

Saturday 7:15 p.m.: Tennessee Titans v. New England Patriots (-13.5)

People are sheep. I read the ESPN article about the Bill Belichick-Jimmy Garoppolo-Robert Kraft-Tom Brady love quadrilateral. Et tu, New England? The trinity is going to break up because Belichick is afraid to talk to Brady about a snake oil athletic trainer. Yeah, right. All this did was make them red faced and angry.

This game is going to be Tom Brady boiling over and quick passing all over Tennessee. He’s going to collect first downs like chigger bites in the springtime. The Titans couldn’t stop Travis Kelce before he got hurt last week. They won’t be able to wrangle the better version of him in Rob Gronkowksi. Gronk will be spelunking down the field with a refrigerator attached to his back. Dion Lewis will shred runs for twelve yards a snort in easy situations. Brandin Cooks is going to have a game like Tyreek Hill, except it will be over the course of four quarters instead of one. Brady is going to fill Dick LeBeau’s brain with plaque after his precious zone blitz gets incinerated yet again.

It’s easy to think the Titans will be able to run the ball. The Patriots have a mediocre defense. The Titans’ offense turns the teeth of defenses moldy and nubby. However, most of Tennessee’s rushing yards come from Marcus Mariota being afraid to throw the football and scrambling or Derrick Henry staring into the center of the offensive line, getting scared, and bouncing things wide. The core of the Titans’ run game is a lot of scrounging around. The Pats won’t let this happen. They’ll spy Mariota. They’ll keep their outside linebackers focused on the edge and ensure their safety comes wide instead of downhill to limit the bouncing.

I’m tellin’ ya, Skip. You could make this line 100 points. 100 points? Yes, 100 points! I’d still like New England.

Sunday 12:05 p.m.: Jacksonville Jaguars v. Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)

All of the sudden everyone loves the Jags. Cool. Great. Grand. They are going to get their teeth kicked in on Sunday. Have you ever kicked a jungle cat? The first thing that goes is their teeth. Like needles, those things.

Blake Bortles can’t throw the ball into a breeze of 5 mph on a sunlit field. He ran for more yards than he tossed last weekend against a bad Bills defense. The ball Bortled out of his hands and he couldn’t even throw the quick crossing routes that carried him throughout the season. In the cold, on the road, against a great pass rush, complex defense, and mediocre secondary, it’s going to be even more grotesque.

The idea is the Jags are going to be able to stop the Pittsburgh offense. They have the best pass defense in football. They smoked Pittsburgh on the road earlier this year. They goaded Ben Roethlisberger into an alleyway and bled five interceptions out of him. However, that was before Le’Veon Bell was in shape. The Jaguars have a crappy run defense, and it may be even worse this weekend. Paul Posluszny was injured last week and limited in practice this week. You can’t replace 1,214 tackles. If he’s limited or injured, you have the inexperienced lighter, quicker, and easier to demolish Telvin Smith and Myles Jack playing in the middle more. Even on the outside, they stand no chance against Pittsburgh’s offensive line.

The Jags’ offense will face loaded nacho boxes on first and second down. Leonard Fournette looks like Greg Oden and is struggling to break tackles anyways. Then Pittsburgh will hang out on third downs. Bortles will make mistakes and throw passes into the ground. As long as the Steelers spy Bortles on passing downs, the Jags won’t be able to move the ball.

The AFC title is going to be a salt versus pepper rematch between the Steelers and Patriots. For the sixth year in a row, the AFC really needs to get better.

Sunday 3:40 p.m.: New Orleans Saints (+5) v. Minnesota Vikings

Next weekend’s NFC Championship is not my NFC Championship Game. This game is. It’s a rematch from Week One, back before the Saints became the Saints. They lost 29-19. They then lost to New England 36-20 the following week. With their backs against the wall, they really came together as a team after that. They learned how to play their game and with each other. After starting off 0-2, the Saints slathered up eight wins in a row.

Before they figured it out in Week Three, the Saints were the same old team. All offense and no defense. They found a defense this year. They are the best team in the NFC, losing out on homefield advantage only because they played a difficult schedule. It’s hard to win all those games against good teams. Luckily, the Vikings are weak. They constructed a dome stadium to protect against the arctic Minnesota winters. New Orleans gets to play inside this weekend, just like they were at the Superdome. It’s going to be like they never even left New Orleans.

Both these defenses are great. Minnesota’s is better, but the Saints have a better run offense. They balance each other out. This game, like all playoff football games, is all about quarterback play and experience. On one shoulder, you got Drew Brees, the most accurate passer in the history of football; he has won big games before. On the other, you got Mr. Hollywood himself, Case Keenum. The biggest game Keenum has ever played in is some pre-Christmas Weedeater Bowl where the winner got a 128 GB iPad instead of a 64 GB iPad. I know who I got.

Additionally, the Saints can close out games now. They don’t have to score 59 points. The games aren’t infinite. They can finally bury teams once they have a late lead. Their run game and defense can close things out.

The Saints are going to be playing in Minnesota three times this year.

Enjoy the games.